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Beauty - Some Stages in the History of an Idea

Beauty - Some Stages in the History of an Idea

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We have to catch ourselves up in order to recognize that 'beauty' has receded or even disappeared from contemporary aesthetic theory. For, like other once influential ideas, it has simply faded away. Far more venerable than the concepts of 'fine art"- and 'aesthetic,' 2 'beauty' has been, traditionally, the dominant concept in aesthetic theory, art criticism, and ordinary aesthetic discourse. But when we catch ourselves up, we see how little the word 'beauty' occurs in works published in this century, relative to 'art' and 'aesthetic.' "What is beauty?," the question which has been at the center of aesthetic theory since the Hippias Major, is not the question put by many recent thinkers. They devote themselves to the analysis of 'fine art' and the phenomenology of aesthetic experience, inquiries in which 'beauty' is treated only casually and incidentally or else ignored altogether. As the generic value-term, 'beauty' has been replaced by some such locution as 'aesthetic value.' It is in the discussion of aesthetic value that 'beauty' gets most attention, but even here it is only one among other value-categories, and its treatment is fairly perfunctory. Only rarely is the approach of the contemporary aesthetician set forth so consciously and explicitly as it is by H. N. Lee, who says of 'beauty' that it "is best used to denote only a part of the general field of aesthetic value, and that part need not be carefully delimited, but can be left more or less vague." What is most striking about the use of 'beautiful' in current art criticism and discourse is not that the term is just one among a host of value-predicates. It is, rather, that 'beautiful' seems now often to be used pejoratively or invidiously. One can say on behalf of a work of art, "It may not be beautiful, but. . . ." Something more and, implicitly, something better than beauty is appealed to. Those modern artists who will not have it that the creation of beauty is their goal, have fostered the transvaluation of the term. When a work is only beautiful, it is inoffensive, or it is in an orthodox style or genre, or it is excessively trim or neat. Most important of all, it can be beautiful without being expressive. The latter term, more than any other probably, has supplanted 'beautiful' in our aesthetic vocabulary. It refers to those works which suggest• more than they 'say,' and/or those which expose the soul of the artist, and/or those which are 'moving,' 'stirring,' 'gripping.' Beauty, if it has the characteristics cited above, must seem pallid by comparison and to demand beauty will almost certainly obstruct the purposes of expression and expressiveness. 1 Cf. below, note 8. 2 Cf. below, text after note 26. 8 H. N. Lee, Perception and Aesthetic Value (New York, 1938), 98.




The decline of 'beauty' has taken place tacitly and, so to speak, unofficially in our own time. My purpose in this paper is to trace out the causes and the pattern of this decline. Thus far I have spoken only of the present century, roughly. But the great watershed in the history of 'beauty,' as of other aesthetic concepts, is the XVIIIth century. That century uniquely—such is the argument of the paper —set going the forces which displace 'beauty' from the position it had enjoyed in classical and Renaissance thought. What is now an unthinking gesture is the result, several times removed, of a concerted effort of reason in the XVIIIth century. The discussion will be confined to the British thinkers of the period, in whom aesthetic theory, as we know it, very largely originated' They can be readily treated together because, from the beginning of the century to its end, they share substantially the same presuppositions, methods, and purposes. And they were the prime movers in the demotion of 'beauty.' Their congenital resistance to the authority of alien traditions, their determination to make a fresh start and to think it out for themselves, their vigorous and sensitive, if often unsystematic thinking, together shattered the old intellectual frameworks and altered, for good and all, the concept which was at the heart of them. I Much of the speculation about the arts which was carried on prior to the XVIIIth century was devoted to the artistic genres. The 'rules' were formulated out of the conviction that the genres, like the genera of natural objects, "have their immutable and constant forms, their specific shape and function." 5 The compendious statement of their proper laws was the goal of innumerable Renaissance and neo-classical treatises patterned on Aristotle, Horace, and Vitruvius. But are these treatises works in 'aesthetics'? This is a large question, deserving of a fuller answer than can be given here; yet it must be raised if we are to understand the achievement of British thought. Bosanquet holds that there was "an intermission of aesthetic philosophy . . . from the time of Plotinus to the eighteenth century of our era." 6 The treatises seem to bear him out. What we now consider 'aesthetic philosophy' both employs and analyzes concepts
Cf. Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, trans. Koelln and Pettegrove (Boston, 1955), 312; Paul 0. Kristeller, "The Modern System of the Arts: A Study in the History of Aesthetics," this Journal, XII (1951), 496-497, XIII (1952), 27; W. J. Bate, From Classic to Romantic: Premises of Taste in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, Mass., 1946), vii, 171. Also, cf. below, note 11 et seq. 5 Cassirer, op. cit., 290. 6 Bernard Bosanquet, A History of Aesthetic (London, 1922), 166f.

other than `aesthetic' itself. The whole point of formulating the `rules' is that when they are satisfied and the genre thereby attains its perfection. Bosanquet's dictum must be qualified. 498. Literary Criticism: A Short History (New York. cit. 'the aesthetic'—to which the genre is related and of which it is a part. unifies the various treatises? That of 'fine art. The use of such a concept evidences the belief that there is a larger field of data—call it. so far as it analyzes. however.' the generic term which designates the value of each of the arts. Wimsatt. Holt. there will be little or no analysis of 'beauty' in general. in a treatise devoted to the proportions of the human body or the subjects appropriate to the ode. If it is there at all. The belief may be and doubtless was largely inarticulate. 'beauty' results. then. 262. 9 Cf.g. it can only be by reference to the concept of 'beauty. they are usually devoted to just one of the arts or to some genre. 133-136. speaking only of architecture. at all systematic statement in British aesthetics." 'Beauty' is not. A treatise approaches aesthetics. 8 If the treatises are to be classified as 'aesthetics' at all.' 9 Again. 10 "On Architecture.' when it is used at all. to designate these phenomena. 1947). 510ff. Which aesthetic concept. unites the studies of all of them." Philosophical Quarterly (1961). Finishing and Collocation of the several members. 8 Cf.' hardly or not at all. Moreover. but cf. ed. there can be no question that XVIIIth-century British thought is a major turningpoint.. 7 .. aesthetic concepts which have a reference beyond the genre. Addison gives the lead.' Thus Alberti. e. limited to his particular art-form. 1957). Literary Sources of Art History (Princeton. Prior to the XVIIIth century. Jerome Stolnitz. for the Renaissance and neo-classical theorist. It has a general and inclusive reference which 'fine art." but when these are present. lacks. 'Beautiful. Jr. waiving the historical solecism. But even if Bosanquet's judgment is too severe." in Elizabeth G. the epic.'BEAUTY' : HISTORY OF AN IDEA 187 which refer to artistic and aesthetic phenomena T generally. Kristeller.n the conception of aesthetic theory justifies How much more convenient it would be to have a collective term. Yet beauty is the ultimate concern of the writer. for he takes it to be the goal of the art-form he is discussing. calls for the "Number. this concept had not yet arisen or it was only tentative and inchoate. though it be only in relation to the specific genre.. and Cleanth Brooks.. And yet. he says. within a particular art. they are not to be ignored altogether. op. 11 Shaftesbury antedates the Spectator papers by a few years. the object is 'beautiful. The treatises are often little more than technical manuals. William K. "On the Significance of Lord Shaftesbury in Modern Aesthetic Theory. In the first.

325. Like his predecessors. The Renaissance and neo-classical treatises are constricted and unsystematic by contrast. Addison did not work out this concept in any detail. grouped together with the fine arts and studied along with them. pp. So "the pleasures of the imagination" make up the subject matter of the Spectator papers on aesthetics (nos.. Addison does not confine himself to a single art or genre. 420. with the symmetry of any thing. the central concept in aesthetics is that of the faculty of aesthetic responsiveness." 13 The "pleasures of the imagination" are further specified by their disinterestedness. p. 1712. He speaks perceptively of the aesthetic quality to be found in history. 329-330. 23 Spectator no. . cf. natural objects have comparable effects. "we are struck. ed. at once. Addison did not use the word "aesthetic. of course. 13 Spectator no. p. "Spectator no. a truth in the understanding is as it were reflected by the imagination . 413. sculpture.. 411-421). p. 334. p." `Aesthetic experience' provides the conceptual generality and unity which was lacking in earlier thought." 15 but they involve cognitive activity. too "gross" 13 and insufficiently "innocent. 324-325. 18 Ibid. but he distinguished the satisfaction of "a man of polite imagination" on viewing the "fields and meadows" from that of a man who delights in their possession." 12 Following "the new way of ideas. 414. and architecture.. 22 Spectator no. 409. 21 Spectator no." which catalogues experience in terms of the faculties of awareness. VI. 24 Spectator no. no. 17/bid." 15 When. nor could there be any reflective examination of the "causes and occasions of it. 19 Ibid. a "bent of thought.. The imagination was set off from the faculties of sensation and understanding.." 11 there is not. also." Moreover.188 JEROME STOLNITZ Addison's claim that it is "entirely new. 325. 321. "almost every thing about us" 24 can be aesthetically valuable." 23 For Addison." But he began to move toward the conception of `the aesthetic' which was to become conspicuous in later thought. in respect of its aesthetic worth. we are able to see something like colour and shape in a notion.21 Therefore nature is. 325. 1856). 325. But Addison extends the range of the aesthetic even farther. and painting. 421. First edition. op. Is Ibid. 412. p. pp. Neither of the latter can appropriately define the subject that Addison wished to discuss. He discusses literature. indeed. 416. 324. . p. we know not how. 12 Spectator no. pp.. 347-349. in The Works of Joseph Addison. Greene (New York. effects upon the imagination. the sciences. 324. p. p. because they all have common. - . The pleasures of sense are. music. 411. cit. however.. 16/bid. 370. 14 Ibid. 22 and intellectual activity generally: 4C .." 14 The pleasures of understanding are "refined.

as Hutcheson put it. Boulton (London. . p. Speculation centers upon 'the nature of beauty' and 'beautiful' is used to designate aesthetic value of whatever kind.' 26 Here. The search for 'rules.. Italics omitted. he devotes himself to the examination of its felt quality. Spectator 25 26 Spectator Cf. p. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757). its meaning is no longer the sole or even the chief problem for the theorist. 27 [Francis Hutcheson]. it is for the most part relatively illdefined. An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections (London.' i.(BEAUTY) : HISTORY OF AN IDEA 189 But if the concepts of 'art' and 'the aesthetic' take on new prominence in Addison. Addison's argument that the 'rules' are not of the first importance in criticism. "we need little reasoning or argument. 409. cf. 412. Far more than any other. Addison finds that 'the pleasures of the imagination' can be aroused not only by what is beautiful. "pleasures of the imagination when experience is non-sensual. non-cognitive and disinterested. 2." 28 The job of the aesthetician is that of 'the new way of ideas.. and it is not the sole category of aesthetic value.e. also." This concept is logically prior to and inclusive of 'art' and 'beauty. He no longer. however. just the opposite is true of 'beauty. to inventorize 'the pleasures of no. 1.. in the first instance at least.. 'beauty' is its distinguishing concept. then.' Aesthetic experience has become the chief concern of the theorist and. Even so considered. 1958). 1728). The distinguishing concept is "the aesthetic.' i. no. 'beauty' is no longer unique. 346." 27 The aversion to abstract theorizing is shared by all our philosophers. is the significance of Addison's 'entirely new' approach for the concept of 'beauty': insofar as 'aesthetic theory' occurs at all prior to the XVIIIth century. no.. For objects can be aesthetically valuable in other ways than just being beautiful. the conditions under which an object in a given genre achieves beauty.' Therefore 'beauty' is no longer the central concept in aesthetics.e. 321. since certainty is only attainable by distinct attention to what we are conscious happens in our minds.' viz. 28 Edmund Burke. who announces that he will proceed by "a diligent examination of our passions in our own breasts. but it is most virulent in Burke.e. 415. p. as we shall see in detail in the following section. Addison makes a conscious attempt to define the field of study.25 has its counterpart in his aesthetic theory. becomes a secondary question. sublime. ed. 327. and by things that are 'novel' or 'uncommon. II The British were buoyed by the Lockean conviction that. looks outward to the genres. but also by things that are 'great." i.

. Thus Alexander Gerard analyzes 'taste' into the following 'simple principles': novelty. novelty. " Rene Wellek. we can now see how 'beauty' stands in Gerard's theory. sublimity. far more than any previous age. 151-153n. cf. 88 Op. A History of Modern Criticism (London." 34 Third. it is an enumeration of the kinds of aesthetic response and of the various classes of aesthetic objects. 28 . to the very complexity of Gerard's scheme. as 'imagination' was for Addison. 74. is indeed devoted to the meticulous discrimination of different kinds of 'ideas' or 'perceptions' from each other. . 94. 17642 ). An Essay on Taste (Edinburgh. takes over the latter's triad and adds several more. analytically. cit. Psychologically. Italics omitted. the ridiculous. When aesthetic thought was directed principally to the art-form or genre. He does so because of the deliverances of introspection. imitation. virtue. 150-151n. what is experienced as a difference in kind is a difference in kind.' 'beauty' is not even the most interesting. the 'principles of taste' are 'simple' 32 and therefore irreducible to each other. Logically. The lumping together of diverse aesthetic responses therefore gives way to a great proliferation of the 'species' of such response. the effect upon the spectator was either ignored altogether or referred to by means of some omnium-gatherum term such as 'pleasure' or 'delight' s° The new way of ideas' puts a premium on. a half-century after Addison. 'beauty' is one among a number of 'principles' which are subordinate to 'taste' and coordinate but independent among themselves. cit. So Gerard. Since it is 'perceptions' which are in question. for Gerard. I want to call attention. Therefore Gerard regards Addison's scheme as not adequate to "the sentiments of taste in all its forms." 33 And he describes a sense as "a power which supplies us with such simple perceptions as cannot be conveyed by any other channel. The XVIIIth century. In more recent jargon.190 JEROME STOLNITZ the imagination' or 'the emotions of taste' and reduce them to psychological simples. to be reckoned senses.. Gerard affirms this by saying that "the powers of taste are . 1955). Only the former concerns us here. first." 81 Hence the second thing that I would emphasize is that. 84 Ibid. 21. $1 Op. of the various 'principles. Like Shaftesbury and Hutcheson before him.. for Alexander Gerard. 32 Phenomenologically though not. 151n. sublimity. 1759 1 . concentrated upon the nature of the aesthetic response. I." He intends this to be an exhaustive enumeration of the 'perceptions' which are peculiar to taste and therefore of their corresponding objects. `Taste' is the foundational concept. and the rest are not derivative from or compounded out of it. It might be added that. harmony. for Gerard. beauty..

Yet he believed that the properties of beauty and sublimity can be united in the same object and that. he treats beauty and sublimity at equal length. cf. above. 42 [Henry Home]. 46 Ibid. 1788). ST Spectator no." " Moreover. On the meaning and use of "sublime" prior to the XVIIIth century. " Op. existentially. For though he devotes much more attention to beauty and sublimity than to the others. of all the British. 48 Op. Addison sets off 'sublimity' from 'beauty' 36 and he. as are most of the properties. At the very same time. 41 Ibid. pp. as we have seen. before reference to note 26. conceptually. "sublimity" is incomparably the most important. the traditional view that "Whatever. our pleasure is increased 4 1 Lord Kames asserted that the emotions of beauty and sublimity are clearly different.. 88 Ibid." For Burke. indeed. 86 Cf." 45 an affective state which is not pleasurable and yet not merely painful. to be pleasurable. 45 Ibid. we must turn to Edmund Burke who. quoted in Samuel H. Whereas beauty arouses pleasure ("love"). is beautiful. At the beginning of the century..g. To show this. when they are. 328. 11. I. Still he took the experience of the sublime. 1935). however.`BEAUTY' : HISTORY OF AN IDEA 191 Gerard. he took beautiful objects to be symmetrical. uneasiness. Lord Kames. Burke marks the distinction between them by examining felt experience. p. Addison described the experience of the sublime as one of "astonishment ." 46 The sublime induces "that 85 Joseph Trapp.. (Edinp burgh. proportion. For the impact of 'sublimity' upon aesthetic thought is the single most potent force in dislodging 'beauty' from its formerly unchallenged primacy among the value-categories. chaps. 324-325. Gerard. . 91.. 36. 412. . 39 Spectator no. . Monk." Gerard. they are not only separate but very nearly irreconcilable." whereas sublime objects are "too big" 40 for the mind to grasp." "sublime" is defined by reference to "delight. pp." 85 is still held. however. e. 327-328. like that of beauty. pp.. p. and others.. 411. set forth the opposition between "beauty" and "sublimity" most vigorously and uncompromisingly. . not only distinct but mutually exclusive. 59. The Sublime: A Study of Critical Theories in XVIII-Century England (New York. Monk. cit." 87 that of beauty as "cheerfulness and delight. cit.. 331. Italics in original. op. 412. cit. Elements of Criticism (1762). 40 Spectator no. 46. 328. is sublime. but rather "blended with . . Like the century generally. considered beauty and sublimity irreducibly distinct. I—II. 211-213." Of all these concepts. introduce various other categories into aesthetics alongside that of "beauty. beauty and sublimity are. stillness and amazement. Yet he argued that an object cannot be sublime unless it possesses some of the attributes of beauty. 7th ed. 329..

" 6° whereas we are moved most greatly by what is 'dark." were doubtless excessively vague. Burke is here describing "astonishment. 49 Ibid. is taken to be of greater value than that of beauty.' 52 sometimes co-exist in the same thing. though only in 'some degree." the "highest" effect of the sublime. sublime objects are 'vast' and 'infinite.. i. they remain 'opposite and contradictory. another of the attributes of sublime objects is their 'obscurity. 69 Ibid. the experience thus described. which seems to make it of greater value than the experience of beauty.." the beautiful. 5. 57 58 Ibid. 60. On the side of the percipient.51 Burke grants that these properties may.' 59 "[A] great clearness helps but little towards affecting the passions. small." On the side of the object. been used casually by earlier theorists to describe the aesthetic response. 55 Ibid. 73. 57. delicate. 'in the infinite variety of natural combinations.. any formal ordering and bounds. . the property of beauty had traditionally been identified with some kind of formal ordering. 51 Ibid. Still they betokened the belief that the aesthetic experience is free of 'negative' feelings. Cf.. 57.' occurs in veritably aesthetic experience. note 77ff.' 58 i.' etc.e. but rather 'relaxes' and 'melts. without detriment to the distinctive character of each. Even then.. confused. the beautiful." symmetry. beauty but antithetical to it. music. 72-74. 59ff.. and the other arts. 59. they defy and transcend. 113-114. note 30.. with some degree of horror" 47 . he is concerned with intense emotional arousal and he in sists that the sublime "is productive of the strongest emotion which 47 Ibid.. for Burke. 58-60. in which all its motions are suspended. 159. Closely related to the classical insistence on form is the demand for clarity and lucidity in the object. uncertain. the beautiful does not paralyze. For Burke. He nowhere says this explicitly." For Burke. For Burke.. above. the sublime is rugged.' 61 It is this last aspect of the experience of sublimity. 56 Ibid. cf.e. 125.' 58 This theory admits into the realm of the aesthetic and legitimizes elements not only different from those traditionally associated with. 'harmony. such terms as 'pleasure' which had.55 in the perception of poetry. 149-151. its intense emotion. he ranged their attributes in mutual opposition: the sublime is vast." When Burke turned to the objects of these experiences... furthermore. however. below. 54 Cf. 52 Ibid. also... 53 Ibid. Throughout. however. he concludes. 61 Ibid. 50 Cf. the feeling of horror.. and so on.' 48 The upshot is that it is 'hard' or 'impossible' for the experience of beauty to be had at the same time as that of sublimity.192 JEROME STOLNITZ state of the soul. 124.. 48/bid. and of nature as well. 60 Ibid.

T. and he holds that ugliness can become sublime when "united with such qualities as excite a strong terror. when 'beauty' is no longer identified with 'aesthetic value' and when the 'negative' feelings of pain and aversion. usually associated with the perception of ugliness." 67 The concept of sublimity has been less prominent in recent thought than it was for Burke and most XVIIIth-century thinkers. I. a relatively rare phenomenon. the terrible. 65 W.. which is a kind of aesthetic value. cit. 66 Ibid.. . it is probably. As the contradictory of 'beauty. the stimulation even of painful emotions. however." Op. 'obscurity. above. but to a greater extent than any of them. Yet it is important to note that he takes it to be "consistent" 66 with the sublime. style. the satirical . .. 68 Cf.' it had necessarily been excluded. If there is any one category which has supplanted 'beauty' in our own time.( BEAUTY' : HISTORY OF AN IDEA 193 the mind is capable of feeling. can function in this way because it has a much wider denotation. 67 Ibid. 119. I suggested earlier. therefore. how many of the characteristics of Burke's `sublimity' have attached themselves to 'expressiveness. in the XVIIIth century. 39. 68 Ibid.. I tried to show first that.' viz. 1929)." lxxv. using 'delightful' in Burke's sense.. however. 'Sublime' cannot. once aesthetics accepts "the sublime. The Meaning of Beauty (London. second paragraph. . 119. " Lord Kames later says that the sublime "raises the most delightful of all emotions.' It is remarkable. As a XXth-century philosopher has put it. Such necessity no longer obtains. of course. are admitted into aesthetic experience."' " In common with all of the XVIIIth-century British thinkers. that 'beauty' was no 62 Ibid.' Sublimity is. Kames is not. serve as the garden variety predicate which designates the most frequent kind of aesthetic value." 62 The experience of beauty comes to seem slight by contrast and beauty itself. the absence of formal preciseness. and content. 248. fragile and attenuated. almost in its very nature. 82.. 68 'the expressive. But if 'expressive' now parallels 'beautiful' in importance. 'Expressive. It can be and is applied to works of art which are highly diverse in their scale. it is largely because the concept of 'sublimity' first pointed up the limitations and deficiencies of 'mere beauty. emotional power. Burke pushes back the boundaries of the aesthetic. "Introduction. The final step logically would be to make room for ugliness within the realm of aesthetic value.' by contrast. why not the ugly as well?" 65 Burke's discussion of ugliness is very brief and unsatisfactory.' III The three sections of this paper treat the concept of 'beauty' at levels of decreasing generality. the field of aesthetics was no longer organized around the concept of 'beauty' and second. Stace.

7. similarly. 43.71 He will not consider it a property whose existence and nature are independent of perception: "[Were] there no mind with a sense of beauty to contemplate objects. This can be called the phenomenal sense of beauty." 7° Like all the British.. 1738). 71 Ibid." in Philosophical Works. however. 'beauty' might still have been used to denote one important kind of aesthetic experience and aesthetic value. which." The transposition of the terms was marked implicitly by the introduction of such locutions as 'the emotion of beauty' or 'the per ception of beauty. does not preclude trying to determine which property or properties make things beautiful. relational whereas 'uniformity amidst variety' on any showing is not. Hutcheson treats it as such.. David Hume. Gerard. cit. it marked off a kind of experience distinguishable introspectively from other kinds of aesthetic experience. I shall call this the objective sense. 16.. 70. "Of the Standard of Taste. Even so considered. however. We have seen that when the British took the turn inward. This is an empirical question. op. the concept suffers a profound transformation. 72 Ibid. it was so used in the XVIIIth century. 17. Italics in original. helps to explain its present status in aesthetic theory.. ed. . I see not how they could be called beautiful.. If there is any inconsistency in this.. Hutcheson's 'absolute beauty' only is in question here. an idea. Green and Grose (London.194 JER011E STOLNITZ longer the sole nor even the chief value-category. (London. Except where otherwise indicated. He finds that it is 'uniformity amidst variety. 74 Ibid. Indeed. Italics omitted. 14-15. as by Hutcheson: "Let it be observed. for Hutcheson.' when it was not proclaimed overtly. the latter cannot express the meaning of the former. 1875). 69 . He does so when he speaks of beauty in the objective sense as the 'real quality in . Yet even if it lost pride of place.. 7. so long as Hutcheson remained faithful to his original intent by construing 'beautiful' as a relational predicate.' For Addison and his successors. 268-269. 'beauty' came to designate one of the species of 'taste' or 'imagination. 79 Ibid." 72 Hence. objects' which 'excites' the idea of beauty. the word beauty is taken for the idea raised in us. Hutcheson also spoke of 'beauty' in things and not simply as a figure of speech. Cf. 75 Ibid. that beauty is. 4th ed. The terms 'beauty' and 'beautiful' had.' 75 Since 'beautiful' is. for he speaks of 'examining' 73 or 'discovering' 74 the salient property. been used traditionally to denote objects or the property of objects. 79 [Francis Hutcheson]. 7. in the first instance. III. Cf.. however. also. all future references to 'beauty' are to this sense of the term. that in the following papers. I shall argue. . An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725). it is unimportant.

"[Men] have an aversion to objects of beauty. refers to a percipient. . becomes clear later when he so defines `sense of beauty' that it can respond only to "objects in which there is uniformity amidst variety." 77 That this is a necessary. to establish a particularly strong connection between the occurrence of these properties and the appropriate experience in the percipient. Hutcheson nowhere admits that objects of the latter kind induce the distinctive idea of beauty. Having taken the turn inward.. the received theories of objective beauty." 78 That beautiful objects possess uniformity in variety is not. and utility. an empirical generalization. for it cannot be otherwise. "Beauty. for Hutcheson.. among the conceptions of `beauty' which stimulated much of the dialectic of British aesthetic theory. Ibid. 78 Ibid. which are not naturally apt to give any such pleasures. The British had then. but under different conceptions than those of beauty or deformity. They are `unnaturally' agreeable. uniformity in variety. the relativism endemic to `the new way of ideas' or. 4. What we see here in Hutcheson can be seen. in all of the British aestheticians. but they are not beautiful. Hutcheson guaranteed the relation between `uniformity amidst variety' and the experience of beauty by making any other impossible. viz. 79 Op. more precisely.`BEAUTY' : HISTORY OF AN IDEA 195 It remains an empirical questiori whether objects which possess uniformity in variety do. 73.. not a factual truth. I. cf. as had at first appeared. There must therefore be at least the possibility of negative evidence. Nor do objects of the former class forfeit their claim to be called `beautiful' when they fail to please. somehow. proportion.. as the properties which earlier. None of these has any inherent reference to felt response. must be given up. chiefly when the besetting problem of `taste' had to be faced up to. they must hold that. they identify the properties in virtue of which things are beautiful to the percipient. Else. also. non-relativist theories had singled out to define `beauty' in the objective sense. as Kames puts it. `excite' the idea of beauty and whether only they do so. 80. 208. Yet it seems quite clear that Hutcheson will not accept this possibility. Italics omitted. in one form or another. cit. He grants that objects which should `naturally' arouse the `pleasant idea of beauty' sometimes fail to do so and that we sometimes find "objects pleasant and delightful... 80. indeed. 76 " Ibid. and a liking to others void of it." 76 But he does not take this to be negative evidence." 79 At the same time. in its very conception. on the one hand. It is this tension within the conception of `beauty' or. on the other. 81-83. harmony.

. p cit.. Yet here as elsewhere in XVIIIth-century thought. engage in a vigorous polemic against those of his contemporaries.. For all XVIIIth-century British aesthetics. 80 0-. was ever shewn. 81 Ibid. 82 Ibid. affected by the qualities we have investigated: but these qualities themselves are. 378. 74. op. that they did not all immediately agree that it was beautiful." 82 Or one could simply deny that there is any problem. and Burke tried to keep out the nasty facts in one way or another. felt response is the indispensable and decisive evidence of the existence of beauty. nature is found to be less stable and assured than could be wished. not to say irreverent. these philosophers. Karnes. and the critique of the concept itself under the heading. the logical argument.' and the rest. the constituents of excellence. The formulas of 'unity. Moreover.' 'proportion. I.. are. ." 83 These. variety. Gerard would not therefore abandon his theory of objective beauty: "Men. or universally. As the century grew older. Thus Burke: "I never remember that any thing beautiful . When. on the next. attention was directed to its logical character. The first type of argument is 'empirical' just in the sense that it appeals to the data of aesthetic experience. These polemics left their mark. or both. without any exception. were now called into question. the concept of objective beauty seems to have become intractable. . comparable contrivances evidence the dialectical instability of 'beauty. the objects of the experience of beauty. 84 Cf. 129. with few exceptions. which had passed muster in previous ages. A man would put forward his theory of objective beauty on one page and. and proportion 'render' things beautiful 8° for they 'are naturally productive' 81 of the sentiment of beauty. 88 Op. in this latter stage. to explain why it had to be rejected." We have seen that Hutcheson. But such ad hoc devices could not long remain effective in an age committed to empiricism.196 JEROME STOLNITZ Gerard held that uniformity. and other. there was increasingly greater discouragement over the possibility of finding any formula that would work. . Italics in original. cit. in fact.' The concept was therefore especially vulnerable in an age whose temper was critical. cit. 74. I shall treat the critique of the various theories of beauty under the headings. Gerard. though it were to an hundred people.. like their fellows. It is therefore meeting them on their own terms to adduce evidence that objects possessing the properties which they singled out are not solely. issuing finally in skepticism that any such formula exists. 15. the empirical argument and the phenomenological argument. thought to ground their respective theories of beauty on experiential fact.

but flowers are almost of every sort of shape. op. cit. 1780). 92 86 Ibid. as we have seen. [Uniformity] amid variety among ugly objects." 88 Against "utility" or "fitness": "[A] toad is as fit for the purposes of its nature as a turtle-dove. affords no pleasure. 95. as I have noted. 6. with proportions different. The phenomenological argument is used less frequently. note 11. the paper referred to above.. so much a commonplace in our own time. was first explicitly recognized by Lord Shaftesbury 91 and. .. that they are mostly of little or no utility. op.' `uniformity in variety' and 'utility. we know. 86 Ibid. is fairly rudimentary. Indiana. in the history of aesthetics." 89 This kind of argument is doubtless. 325. Kames. How many birds are there that vary infinitely from each of these standards [of proportion].' and especially the first. They could and did retain their prominence when there was no obligation in theory to put them to the test of aesthetic experience. 1953). A History of Aesthetics. and we may remark of artificial ornaments. it undermines belief in all of them. 324-325. rather facile and not very sophisticated.`BEAUTY' : HISTORY OF AN IDEA 197 Any number of examples could be quoted. . the following may suffice: Against "proportion": "Turning our eyes to the vegetable creation. would be too gross to pass current. but it is considerably more interesting. above. as we shall see. 94. cit." .. 188. ed. is far from being just with respect to beauty in general: variety contributes no share to the beauty of a moral action. nor of a mathematical theorem. Burke.' That there is a mode of attention and perception peculiar to the aesthetic experience. p.9° are as venerable as can be. and from every other which you can fix. rev. we find nothing there so beautiful as flowers. For it is based on an idea which originates in the XVIIIth century and has been a chief legacy of that century to later aesthetic theory: 'the aesthetic attitude. The theories of 'proportion' or `harmony." 86 Against "uniformity in variety": "[This] definition." 87 Whereupon Kames adds a logical point: "[To] define beauty as arising from beautiful objects blended together in a due proportion of uniformity and variety. I.. The Elements of Beauty (Edinburgh.. Donaldson. but since the argument from negative instances. The British turn the empirical argument against each of them and. But its cumulative effect in XVIIIthcentury thought cannot be ignored. by Addison. 90 "Harmony. (Bloomington. . 91 Cf. however applicable to one or other species. and often directly opposite to each other! and yet many of these birds are extremely beautiful. 65 87 . here as elsewhere. 186." Katherine E. 92 Cf. . has been the accepted synonym for beauty or for the artist's goal through all the ages of a philosophy of art. 89 J. Gilbert and Helmut Kuhn. and of every sort of disposition.

1896).. 92. Selby-Bigge (Oxford." 1" But " 98 Anthony. 251: II. Both emphasized two aspects of the aesthetic attitude: 1) The aesthetic percipient is not motivated by personal advantage." which he thought obscurantist and uneconomical. . not in relation to one's personal advantage. I. 364..198 JEROME tarroLiviTz in the opening years of the century. 127-128. . utility is apprehended. ." 95 The phenomenological argument is the argument that certain properties which have been thought to make things beautiful. 94 Ibid. immediately." Indeed. 28.e.. 95 Francis Hutcheson. 1900). Cf. I. so far from being beautiful. or are the occasions of it." Hutcheson later united 1) and 2) by describing aesthetic "perceptions" as "pleasant and . 137. 4. and that without any knowledge of the cause of this pleasure or pain. 27. Beauty and Virtue. or how the objects excite it. Earl of Shaftesbury. ed." Yet he took over completely the belief in aesthetic immediacy which Shaftesbury and Hutcheson had expressed by means of this theory: ". anyone. The percipient can then be disinterested. 99 Op. On this view. if the latter is even "accompanied" by the former. before we can have any pleasure by this sense [i. ed. he cannot be disinterested. If the utility of the object is considered with an eye to one's "farther advantage or detriment. as the application of ice or fire produces the ideas of heat or cold. 171-172. cannot do so. cit. 296. 96 David Hume. Robertson (London. does or might pursue. on the grounds of 1). 55-56. it is not even aesthetic. also. ." of which this is not true. the sense of beauty]. 100 Ibid. Italics omitted. but as the objective property of a thing which is skilfully adapted to certain ends that someone. A Treatise of Human Nature (1739). I. 1755). 98 Ibid. Characteristics (1711). Of the prevailing theories of beauty. On a more straightforward version of the theory. ." 98 Burke vigorously repudiated the theory of the "inner senses. also. because the perception of these properties is incompatible with the aesthetic attitude. Inquiry into . II. also. .' 98 2) Aesthetic response is 'immediate. suggested by Hume. painful. the Passions and Affections. the appearance of beauty as effectually causes some degree of love in us. Hutcheson admonished. Francis Hutcheson.. II. Hutcheson therefore distinguished very sharply the "joy" aroused by an object "upon our apprehending ourselves possessed of it" from the experience of beauty. or without feeling to what farther advantage or detriment the use of such objects might tend. . 16. 63. There is a subtle form of this theory. he attends to the object 'for its own sake. Italics omitted. 576ff.. . 97 Essay on . 102. .... that of 'usefulness' is most obviously vulnerable to this argument. A System of Moral Philosophy (London. however. Cf. we must be very great indeed. cf." then.' in the sense that it takes place without discursive reflection. then.

" 107 Indeed. when it is commonly held to be a necessary ingredient in beauty of whatever kind. in The Works of George Berkeley." 106 But in Karnes.. op. 102 Op." 1" "proportion. For that. are not." 105 and "utility.. Karnes' skepticism of any such formula was expressed almost incidentally in the middle of his chapter on humor. Donaldson (1780) says at the 101 Alciphron. the empirical and phenomenological arguments made themselves felt. "the comparing parts one with another.'BEAUTY': HISTORY OF AN IDEA 199 this is not how proportion is apprehended. discouragement over the possibility of finding a successful formula of objective beauty. rather than containing a description alone of what is beautiful. 108 Lord Karnes did not go so far. rather than a primary cause acting on the senses and imagination". whether beauty be at all an idea belonging to proportion. cit. the considering them as belonging to one whole [is] the work of reason. Proportions. .. the mediation of discursive. 104 0p cit. the attack upon the formulas takes Et new turn. As Berkeley had put it. but proportion is "a creature of the understanding. Kames became skeptical that there are any properties common to all beautiful objects. for he continued to avail himself of "uniformity and variety." 101 Burke's argument. can be set out in this way: "[Beauty] demands no assistance from our reasoning". 305ff. Thus Donaldson says of 'uniformity and variety' that they are "terms comprehending the nature of all things. . . 108 Ibid.. 109 Donaldson.. This argument can function at all only if such a phrase as 'uniformity in variety' is thought to have a determinate meaning and denotation. fail to arouse beauty.. This is shown in various ways. ed. therefore. "I have great reason to doubt. 199ff. 105 Ibid. strictly speaking. Fraser (Oxford. rational processes is required.. IX.'. then.. Twenty years later. 1871). 324." 109 By the closing decades of the century. 107 Ibid. II. Burke repudiated each and all of the traditional theories of beauty. ch. . but only by reason. 1°6 Ibid. in the phenomenal sense. has turned into despair. 5. their logical status is altered and diminished: "It may surprise some readers to find variety treated as only contributing to make a train of perceptions pleasant. cit. cit. 198. 102 By the middle of the century.. -108 Op. 92. Italics in original. The empirical argument proceeded by the fairly simpleminded method of showing that some beautiful objects do not possess the property in question and that others which do. 273.108 In later authors. 119. such skepticism moved into the forefront of aesthetic thought and took a firm hold. perceived by the sense of sight. The more subtle and far more damning criticism is to show that this is not the case. 112. therefore.

The formulas had to be given up. he says. who initiated the new way of thinking. above. (London.200 JEROME STOLNITZ very beginning of his work: "The common error of most of our modern writers on beauty has been. . Cf. arouse the appropriate experience. Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783). note 71 et seq. As we have already seen. I.. 115 Op. their instincts were surely right. 316. ed. fails to find "any single principle" acceptable. did so. Hugh Blair. 316. indeed. .. 116 cf above. not because of this or that version of the empirical or the phenomenological argument. they questioned the very enterprise of seeking formulas.' in the first instance. though I believe also.. that they have arisen from a partial view of the subject. 113 'love' (Burke ))114 or 'sweetness and gaiety' (Kames)." 11° Alison (1790). 4th 112 Ibid. 5. These "principles" are. The paramount difficulty. but because of the dialectical tension at the very heart of British aesthetics. 43. above. subject to one fixed principle. Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste (1790). 197. 118 Op. Yet instead of seeking other formulas. Italics in original.' If a thing does. I. however. ultimately. 114 Cf.. 115 Beauty. . The formulas were inherited from ways of thinking whose conception of beauty was exclusive and aristocratic. note 44." 112 In this. in the objective sense. 'beauty. note 24. is 110 Ibid. The difficulty. note 38. must accordingly mean "that which arouses the 'idea' or 'perception' of beauty. "almost every thing about us [has] the power of raising an agreeable idea in the imagination. in order to appear completely beautiful. in fact. "altogether impossible. to Alison.' For the new way of thinking. to Addison. is applied to almost every thing that pleases us. cit. . is not that there are now a great many things to which `beautiful' is properly applied. 11th ed. 1815). when the range of 'beauty' becomes catholic and inclusive. 92. cit." 117 Gerard deplored the fact that "beauty . 118 Cf. by defining 'beauty. 'Harmony' or 'unity' set off a fairly limited class of objects. I. but that a new and more enlightened effort might do so." 111 The fin-de-siecle theorists might have concluded that no previous theory had made out the properties which are common and peculiar to beautiful things. also. for 'harmony' or any other formula. "true to a certain extent. it gains entry. 117 Cf. 1809)." 116 There is therefore no a priori limitation upon the things that might become members of the class of 'beautiful objects. which is.. 111 Archibald Alison. (Edinburgh. indeed a fatal one. I." 118 but the whole impulse of British aesthetics was to encourage and sanction such usage. above. that they have supposed all things. designates some phenomenal state: 'cheerfulness' (Addison). similarly.

I. "The Associationist Criticism of Francis Hutcheson and David Hume. even more than his predecessors Shaftesbury and Addison. As we have seen. Not surprisingly.. who proclaims and gives impetus to the Copernican Revolution in aesthetics. e. though in neither case "under the conceptions of beauty and deformity. It is against this background that the logical argument must be understood. 121 Ibid. cit.. the old question. also. as he says. It must therefore be accredited as legitimately aesthetic.. sometimes do not.84-85. The aesthetic percipient is installed at the center of things and his response determines which objects are beautiful. definitive of "the emotion of beauty. in any event foreign to the experience of beauty itself. "Which properties in things make them beautiful?.." 119 Hutcheson wished to explain these facts and the explanation must. I. The argument was put forth at the turn of the century. 192-193.obtrusion. I. cit. . 3ff..' 121 an . to Hutcheson objects which lack uniformity in variety sometimes please and others which possess the property. the irrelevance of the traditional question was as yet only dimly recognized. association becomes the uniquely crucial element in aesthetic experience. 122 Cf. . Finally. viz. 123 Op.." 123 Alison accepts and insists upon the conclusion which Hutcheson would not accept.287-288. 'accidental. It is beautiful just because it has triggered the association. It must be something idiosyncratic. A theory such as Alison's demanded a above.' BEAUTY': HISTORY OF AN IDEA 201 that there can be no limits in theory to the area within which the properties of beautiful things are to be sought. Gerard. which are not naturally apt to give any such pleasures. Hume. XLIII (1946). 120 Op. when "certain qualities or appearances ." Studies in Philology. The contrast between Hutcheson. II.' Yet it is Hutcheson himself. setting themselves to study the nature and conditions of aesthetic response." becomes not so much unanswerable as irrelevant..g. 73." 120 So association is. At this point. and Kames. is instructive here... association occurs widely or pervasively." 124 the object of perception is beautiful. For Hutcheson it is. indeed. in Alison. too. . are connected with our own private affections or remembrances. 73. Martin Kallich. cf. chiefly. II. were all to find the mechanisms of association at work in the experience of beauty. association: "Associations of ideas make objects pleasant and delightful. At this point. of course. Later thinkers. note 77. at its end. however. It is. 24. 645-651. 119 Cf. be found within the percipient. Cf. there is nothing to keep 'beautiful' from being infinitely accommodating in its denotation. and Alison. that even when the association is wholly personal or eccentric. 124 Ibid. which therefore disrupts 'natural' perception. 130. 422. 4. at the beginning of the century. So far from being casual or accidental.

as I indicate above. But though there was nothing to replace them. I. C. his chief problems and concepts are all of a piece with its thought. 128 Ibid. Prof. E. and D with E. 284. 128 125 Op. also." 125 This was a passing observation in Kames but in Dugald Stewart it became much more. B with C. Jr. What is there about 'beauty' in the objective sense which makes it intractable? Appropriate to a philosophical twilight... which has descended to modern times from the scholastic ages.. 197. Ill. however. note 87.. to ascertain the common quality or qualities.' csublimity. He is. 522." 1 " The Cit. 1957). Stewart falls chronologically outside the XVIIIth century but. C with D.' etc.—is inherited from the century. 210 130 Ibid. Italics in original. 129 Ibid. 127 Stewart. attention turned to language and linguistic usage. Italics omitted. but the success of their speculations has been so inconsiderable that little can be inferred from them but the impossibility of the problem to which they have been directed. B. these significations must all be species of the same genus.'" The working capital of his own theory—`beauty. The logical argument is the argument that it is systematically impossible to determine which properties are common and peculiar to beautiful things or whether there are any such properties. 222. and must consequently include some essential idea common to every individual to which the generic term can be applied. the collapse of the formulas was so patent in the thought of the century that it must be explained. above. 1810). Italics in original. The Sublime.. Philosophical Essays (Edinburgh." 128 Stewart undertakes to explain the "great variety of acceptations" of "the word Beauty" 129 and he comes up with a scheme much like Wittgenstein's "family resemblances. The Beautiful. . cf." Walter John Hipple. The formulas had to fail because the term 'beauty' is highly polyguous or intolerably vague. no quality can be found which belongs in common to any three objects in the series. at the same time." Given objects A. which entitles a thing to the denomination of beautiful.—that when a word admits of a variety of significations."taste. Lord Karnes had already thought it worth remarking that men apply 'beautiful' not only to sensory objects but also in speaking of "a beautiful theorem. II. "while. Hippie describes him as "a writer who aimed to subsume and reinterpret the speculation of the century.. 211. Cf.. also. Stewart points out that A may have a quality in common with B. a beautiful constitution of government. sufficiently detached from its concerns to point to their futility and to diagnose the causes: "It has long been a favourite problem with philosophers. 217. D.202 JEROME STOLNITZ radically different understanding of 'beauty and it was too soon for that. 214." 127 These theories "have evidently originated in a prejudice. Stewart surveys all of the XVIIIth century retrospectively. and the Picturesque in Eighteenth-Century British Aesthetic Theory (Carbondale.

Indeed. above. 132 Knight. echoes Karnes in noting that 'beautiful' is applied to "a material substance. 134 Ibid. not on some one referential meaning but on referential meaning altogether.' Stewart explains. has broadened and then altered imperceptibly as it has been applied successively to the objects in such a series.. The way is open to the view of recent thinkers. a contemporary of Stewart. Inquiry into the Principles of Taste (London. but it was not easy to set limits to the experience. above." it was difficult to keep "beauty" from being applied even to what pleases non-aesthetically. Then it points to nothing in the object but only registers the fact that the object has induced a certain experience. lose its purchase. . None of their predecessors had taken. 18052). The term may. even on Stewart's showing." The concept of "beauty" commended itself to traditional thought because of the assumption that it had or could be given a determinate 131 Cf. 'beauty' retains the 'signification' of some quality. No 'single principle' 131 exists." Yet it is transformed in this way that the term seems to emerge out of the ferment of their thought. An Analytical 133 Ibid. a syllogism. in Payne Knight's phrase. they invited precisely the consequence which Payne Knight decries. Still. It follows from this striking and forceful argument that the traditional quest for essence is necessarily futile. of the most vague and extensive meaning. viz.' in the objective sense.' are caught in the crossfire of the empirical and phenomenological arguments. 'Harmony' and the other concepts with which they had thought to assign referential significance to 'beauty. "a general term of approbation. that "beauty" is nothing but.. that the term is "applied indiscriminately to almost every thing that is pleasing. Thus A and E are now both called 'beautiful. however. or a period. to be merely "a general term of approbation. note 118. The last of the XVIIIth-century British theorists called attention to it because they knew that the same thing had happened at the level of conceptual analysis throughout the century. 'beauty.'BEAUTY': HISTORY OF AN IDEA 203 meaning of 'beauty." "a problem. in the absence of a scrupulous definition of "the aesthetic attitude. Richard Payne Knight. note 111. or an intellectual theorem. when the British converted 'beautiful' into a relational predicate. even if only the quality common to A and B. 9. More important." 132 But he also makes this acute observation: "The word Beauty is a general term of approbation. 9." 133 This dissolving of preciseness and accompanying promiscuity of application is not merely a linguistic phenomenon. a moral excellence." 134 They sought to restrict beauty to that particular kind of aesthetic experience which it arouses.' though they have no property in common. Cf.

135 Cf. or. After the XVIIIth century. above. like Professor Lee. resigning themselves to its insuperable vagueness. The effect can be seen in recent aestheticians. to concentrate on "use" rather than "meaning.'" they treat it.. viz. Or they take a radically different approach from that of earlier thought. to put it summarily. Either they give up on the concept altogether. this assumption is weakened or vitiated for many thinkers. note 3." University of Rochester. but with a great deal of diffidence and reserve.204 JEROME STOLNITZ meaning and therefore a viable application to objects or to the properties of objects. .

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